If there’s such a thing as a typical play, Working Class Theatre NW’s “Sunset Limited” is decidedly not it.
The Cormac McCarthy play consists of one 90-minute-long conversation between two men. And the topic is religion.
“People get into philosophical and religious debates all the time, but there’s not a lot of theater about that,” said Tim Samland, the play’s director and the theater company’s co-founder. “People are afraid to go too far into religion or too much into theology. They don’t want their audience to be offended.”
“Sunset,” the second production by Working Class Theatre NW, runs at Tacoma Youth Theatre through Feb. 28.
The play is set in the apartment of Black (Jack House). Black, an ex-con, has just stopped White (Aaron Bredlau) from killing himself, and as the play begins, the men are engaged in a conversation about faith and nihilism.
Whether the characters are meant to represent real people or are symbols of two world views is an open question. In a review of a 2006 production, New York Times critic Jason Zinoman wrote, “They’re closer to something from Samuel Beckett.”
Whichever your interpretation, the actors are working hard.
“The line load alone has been overwhelming,” Samland said. “They’re talking about a lot of different things, so it’s hard to keep track of where the conversation is going versus where it’s already been.”
The director had to work hard, too. First, there was casting, which took a lot of thought and callbacks. And then there was blocking the show in a way that made sense and could hold an audience’s interest.
In the 2011 TV movie version of the play with Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones, Samland said, a lot of the interest came through camera angles. “They sit at a table through most of the movie, but in a movie, the camera is always moving so you get this really interesting back and forth.
“In theater, if two guys sit at a table and have a conversation for two hours, people are going to get really bored really fast.”
In its opening weekend, the play attracted small audiences, but two of the first three nights received standing ovations, he said. And News Tribune theater critic Alec Clayton gave it a rave review on his blog, alecclayton.blogspot.com, writing, “Every seat in the house should be filled every night.”
Working Class Theatre NW is performing “Sunset Limited” in both Tacoma and Olympia, which makes sense given that crew and cast have connections to both cities.
Samland, formerly of Olympia, moved to Tacoma two years ago and continues to do a lot of theater in Olympia, particularly with Theatre Artists Olympia, which manages The Midnight Sun Peformance Space, where it will play.
And both actors also have connections to both cities. Aaron Bredlau lives in Tacoma, but spends weekends in Olympia and does a lot of theater there, including uproarious work in “Lord Franzannian’s Royal Olympic Vaudeville Show.” Jack House lives in Steilacoom, works in Olympia and has done a lot of theater in Lakewood and Tacoma.
In fact, Working Class Theatre NW itself was an effort by Samland and his wife, Christina Hughes, to bring more theater arts to Tacoma — and to bring theater to people who might not necessarily attend already. The company’s mission is to create theater that appeals to (and can be afforded by) working-class and middle-class people.
“We decided that we couldn’t really have the ticket prices be much more than a movie ticket price,” Samland said. “It is our goal — well, I guess our crusade, really — to get more people in the door and more people who don’t normally experience theater.”